Wednesday, 19 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 8

October 19th 2016

Today was the last day of our first holiday on Life's too Short and we only had 2 hours to go to get back to Thames and Kennet Marina.

After a breezy night we woke to calm weather and a glass-like river Thames. We were soon ready to head off from Pangbourne meadow down stream towards Mapledurham lock and pleasantly surprised to discover it was manned.

Mapledurham Lock filling

Mapledurham Wier
Once through Mapledurham there aren't really any places that I'd like to moor overnight - a few 'slum boats' dotted around this stretch hogging the moorings. Reading is a bit better than it was many years ago having had lots of development along the river, the park looks like a place I might consider stopping overnight at.

Caversham lock was also manned and Lady Elizabeth from Kris Cruisers was coming through the other way so we didn't have to wait long.

Caversham Lock
We passed through Caversham Lock without incident and then we were on the home straight. Again there aren't many great moorings along this stretch, many are taken up by long term live-aboards, especially around the entrance to the Kennet and Avon and along the towpath near Tesco. If I was looking for a mooring I'd go on to Sonning, it's a bit nicer there and not far to go.

Entrance to the Kennet and Avon
Then we were back. 2 hours since leaving the meadow we were back at our marina ready to give the boat a quick clean and pack our things to go back to the hustle and bustle and the faster pace of life. Being on the river is a really good way to slow down for a bit and to de-stress, we can't wait until we get the chance to get back on board.

Thames and Kennet Marina

So what did we learn on our first proper trip?

  • Overhanging branches are tougher than the canvas our canopy is made from
  • Most other boaters are really friendly
  • Only use battery 2 at night, battery 1 is for engine starting only
  • It is possible to live on digestives, cheddars and wine for a short while
  • The gelcoat on our boat is about the same thickness as an eggshell and nearly as strong
  • It was well worth buying a spare toilet holding tank
  • Lock-keepers are wonderful people, we need to look after them
  • There's no obvious place to go shopping between Oxford and Lechlade
  • There's no such thing as 'too many' fenders, we're going to add more!
  • Kingfishers only appear when they know you haven't got a camera handy
  • Fishermen always want to fish by the bank on the opposite side of the river
  • Grass snakes swim very well

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 7

October 18th 2016

We woke to the sound of rain on the canopy but it wasn't heavy and the forecast suggested it would soon stop - and it did. We were on our way by 9:15 with a slightly ambitious plan of making it back to our marina on the other side of Reading by sunset.

Our plan was soon scuppered though, there was a queue of boats waiting to go through Culham Lock, headed by a hire boat from Le Boat (Consul 22) with a crew who didn't seem able to manage the boat very well at all. It took them an age to get from the lay-by and into the lock, with a fair bit of bashing the lock entry on the way. The 2 narrowboats next in the queue managed much better but there wasn't enough room for us to squeeze in as well. There would have been if Consul 22 had moved up a bit but we weren't about to make their lives more difficult by suggesting this. Once the lock was empty a narrowboat coming the other way came in and we helped operate the lock for them. It took 20 minutes to fill (I believe this is the slowest lock on the Thames), then the narrowboat could leave and we could make our way through. This put us back a good half an hour if not more.

Culham Lock
Once we were through Culham Lock we motored on through Clifton Lock and Days Lock without any delay although the gusty wind tried to catch us out a few times. There are some fantastic houses along this stretch, if ever my numbers come up on the lottery . . . .

Before long we were approaching Benson Lock (on self-service), the boat ahead of us was in and as we were coming down the lock cut they closed the gates! I gave them a toot on the horn to make them aware we were approaching, someone looked up but carried on closing the gates regardless.  I tied up in the lay-by and wandered down to speak to them.  I could have guessed, it was Consul 22 again, the Le Boat hire boat. There they were in a huge lock, by themselves with us and the narrowboat Angonoka waiting in the lay-by that could easily have gone through with them.  The skipper on Consul 22 claimed they didn't see us, I'm pretty sure they did, unfortunately they are just the type of people that give the hirers a bad name.

While we waited it was nice to chat to Judy from Angonoka, their narrowboat is named after the very rare Angonoka tortoise from Madagascar where her husband Don had spent several years breeding them to go back into the wild for the  Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. It's amazing how many interesting people you can meet while boating.

With this additional delay any chance of making Reading by nightfall was now lost so we made a new plan to stop at Pangbourne instead. Cleeve Lock was next and on self-service, it's only a 2' 3" drop though so doesn't take long.

Cleeve Lock
Next up was Goring Lock, also on self-service, fortunately there was a boat wanting to come through the other way after us and they managed the exit gates for us which made our passage a little easier.

Looking across towards Streatley from Goring Lock
We were soon past Beale Park and on arrival at Whitchurch Lock it was a pleasure to see a lock-keeper there ready to help us through without delay. Pangbourne Meadow was on our right as we exited the lock, we motored down a little way to find a nice spot and to distance ourselves from the railway line a bit as we know it can be noisy.

Moored on Pangbourne Meadow
We wandered into Pangbourne, more for a leg stretch than a need for anything. It's such a hectic little place, lots of traffic and a busy railway line, but it's worth a visit just to have a browse at the car sales place - Lamborghini, Bentley and Aston Martin by the shed-load! Well when I win the lottery and buy my Thames-side house who knows!

This would probably do
Back on board we set about eating whatever perishable leftovers were in the fridge and washed it down with a nice Sauvignon Blanc while we watched the sunset.

Less than 2 hours to go in the morning, then we'll give the boat a good clean and head home ready to go back to work on Thursday.

Monday, 17 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 6

October 17th 2016

It was a bright and very fresh morning on the island at Kings Lock. The first job today was to take down the canopy (wet) and fold the windscreen down as we had a couple of low bridges to go under.

The river meanders back and forth as it crosses the flood plain to the west of the A34 so we could see the traffic on the dual carriageway long before you reach the bridge. Almost immediately after this bridge we arrived at a much smaller one, Godstow Bridge. Many boats have been damaged trying to navigate under this one, it's skewed across the river and the arches fall away sharply so it's very easy to catch the side of the boat going through. With Caroline at the helm (and me trying not to be a backseat driver) I had nothing to worry about of course.

Not long after we were passing through Godstow Lock, the first of the hydraulically operated ones (upstream of here they are all manually operated beam locks). The friendly lock-keeper had us on our way in no time.

The river became much wider as we cruised past Port Meadow, in stark contrast to the narrow reaches of the upper Thames.

It soon narrowed again though on the approach to Oxford and Osney Bridge, this is the lowest one (7' 6" at normal river levels).

We tied up briefly to put the windscreen back up, there are no more low bridges to worry about from here.

We shared Osney Lock with a lovely couple on a narrowboat who waved us by soon after we left the lock.

The river winds it's way around the western edge of Oxford, past the allotments, blocks of flats and terraces of little houses. Some parts look quite nice but there are others I wouldn't want to walk through at night.

The island at Folly Bridge is the last bit of Oxford to navigate through, the bridge spans both channels of the river here and on one side the arches are quite large but of course I decided to take the more challenging narrow channel, just for fun!

Next came Iffley Lock, on self service. By the time we'd set the lock and got our boat in I could see the narrowboat we shared Osney Lock with chugging towards us so I waited to let them pass through with us.

Not much further downstream we got to Sandford Lock, which is huge with a drop of 8' 10", again it was on self-service and we shared it with the same narrowboat.

When we reached Abingdon we topped up with fresh water before passing through the lock and mooring on the meadow.  We put the canopy back up and headed into town for some groceries.

Later we moved the boat downstream of the bridge to shelter from the gusty winds, then enjoyed dinner at a local indian restaurant.

As we walked to the Indian Restaurant in Abingdon I captured this lovely photo of the low moon with a reflection in the river. I wish I'd had my camera with me rather than making do with the iPhone!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 5

October 16th 2016

As expected we awoke to the sound of rain on the roof, it reminded us of our camping days with a caravan! However the forecast had improved and it looked like there would be some dry spells during  the day so we decided to wait a while before leaving.

We didn't have to wait long, by 09:45 we were away and soon through Buscot lock, the sun even started to make an appearance. We decided we'd carry on all the while it was dry . . . and it never rained again! How lucky were we?

We motored on through Grafton Lock (on self-service), Radcot Lock (assisted by a very chatty lock-keeper, took an age!), Rushey Lock with 2 other boats (manned by lock-keeper), Shifford and Northmoor Locks (with 1 other boat, both on self-service), Pinkhill Lock and finally Eynsham Lock.

We were still dry but the wind had picked up a lot which made steering more challenging, luckily we were near our destination for the night - Kings Lock. This is actually quite close to the A34 and A40 - quite near Peartree Services if you know where they are and we can hear the rumble of traffic in the distance.

Grafton Lock Cottage
Caroline steering under Radcot Bridge

Moored on the island at Kings Lock
Something that we've learned in the last few days is that there is nowhere to buy groceries between Lechlade and Oxford! And as we didn't go shopping in Lechlade yesterday we been living on digestives, cheddars and crisps today!

Actually it's not that bad, we just tucked into a 'meal from time' consisting of a Fray Bentos pie, new potatoes and mushy peas! All washed down with a lovely champagne that we bought with us to celebrate reaching Lechlade.

Tomorrow we have to pass under the 2 most awkward bridges again - Godstow, then Osney. This means fully removing the canopy and folding the windscreen down before we set off.  It's planned to be a fairly gentle day for us, about 4 hours cruising down to Abingdon and a relaxing afternoon in the sun. Maybe a spot of fishing even. Then we'll probably head out somewhere for a curry.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 4

October 15th 2016

We awoke to another damp and misty start but knew we didn't have far to go to reach Lechlade and the navigable limit of the River Thames, just 2 locks to go through.  We set off quite early, didn't bother with breakfast apart from coffee and biscuits as we knew we'd be in Lechlade pretty quickly and we'd sort something then.

In less than an hour we had passed through Buscot Lock which was very pretty and on self-service then at 10:30 we arrived at St John's Lock, the last one for us and where Old Father Thames resides!

Life's too Short in St John's Lock with Lechlade in the distance

Old Father Thames
Just 15 minutes later we were moored up on the meadow in Lechlade by Ha-penny Bridge.  We took a rather long stroll through the town to fill a fuel tank but didn't bother with any grocery shopping.

Moored on the meadow by Ha'penny Bridge
We were joined by some good friends and we had a lovely meal in the garden at The Riverside pub, then a little river trip to reach the official navigable limit of the River Thames. Smaller boats can continue further 'at risk' all the way to Cricklade, but it would soon be too shallow for us so we turned at the footbridge which denotes the limit.

The Navigation Limit of the River Thames
Since leaving our marina at Caversham at midday on Wednesday we have travelled 71 miles, passed through 24 locks and climbed 116 feet 1 inch!

Late afternoon we decided to start heading back down river as the weather forecast for Sunday looked pretty poor and it would be wise to make the most of the dry conditions.  This was short lived though, before we reached Buscot Lock the heavens had opened! The lock-keeper was great though and we were able to moor in the weir stream for the night rather than continue in poor visibility and getting ourselves drenched.

The weir stream at Buscot Lock
We went to bed expecting a long, wet day tomorrow as the forecast was still promising a mix of heavy rain and showers!

Friday, 14 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 3

October 14th 2016

When we returned from a lovely evening in Oxford last night we wanted a good night's rest in readiness for today's stretch to Lechlade. However this wasn't to be, at about 11pm we heard some noise outside - roadworks! Thames Water were digging up the road right alongside where we were moored. Plenty of noisy machinery and men shouting above the noise in order to make themselves heard. The last I remember of it was someone using an angle grinder at about 3:30, thanks chaps!

It was raining when we got up, not what we needed considering we had to remove the canopy and lower the windscreen. It doesn't take long but it's not nice doing it in the rain.

By 9:00 we were underway and soon under Osney Bridge! There was plenty of clearance thank goodness.

Osney Bridge
Soon after we arrived at Godstow Lock where the lock-keeper warned us about the next bridge, Godstow. It's not as low but has 2 narrow arches and it isn't perpendicular to the river so you have to go through at quite an angle. To make it more interesting today there was a floating pontoon with a digger on heading towards us and trying to get underneath, being pushed by a tug - it was too tall! By the time we arrived they'd given up and were heading back upstream.

Godstow Bridge
We got through the skewed arch OK, then passed under the A34 and followed the pontoon/tug combo for a while until they waved us by ahead of Kings Lock. After Kings Lock we put the windscreen up and folded the canopy a bit tidier as we'd decided to leave it off now the rain had stopped.

Kings Lock was manned as was Eynsham. Pinkhill and Northmoor were on self-service though and both took as a while to get through - first one because the narrow-boaters ahead of us closed the gates as we approached even though there was plenty of room meaning we had to wait for a full cycle before we could pass through. The second delay was while we waited for the same narrowboat to catch up and come through the lock with us (they were very slow and we passed them between the locks). I couldn't just go through on my own knowing they weren't that far behind, if only everyone was so thoughtful.

Swinford Toll Bridge
Pinkhill Lock
Pinkhill Lock
Radcot Bridge
Shifford and Rushey Locks were both manned, then Radcot and Grafton were on self-service. Whoever went through Grafton ahead of us left it full, with the upstream gates and sluices open (supposed to be left empty with all gates and sluices closed), so this one also took us a bit longer to get through than it should have.

We realised we were pushing our luck a bit to get to Lechlade in daylight so just after 18:00 we were tied to the bank near Kelmscot Manor.  After putting the wet canopy back up we made tea and crashed out, knackered!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

First Holiday Onboard! Day 2

October 13th 2016

After a reasonable night's sleep we were up and moaning about how cold we were.

"It's just like camping" Caroline complained as I was trying to work out why I couldn't get the heating or hot water to fire up, we must be out of gas I assumed, not looking forward to going out to the cockpit to change the bottle. I swapped the gas over but still couldn't excite either system into life.  A cup of coffee would have to do for now. We'd planned to get going as early as we could today in order to reach and maybe pass under Osney Bridge, so at 09:00 we went through the checks and I fired up the engine, except it didn't start, it barely turned. The battery was as dead as a dodo, as flat as a pancake. Bugger. I couldn't understand why as I'd switched over to just one battery when we arrived at Wallingford (after being on both for the whole trip) and now I tried both and just the other battery, but neither option would turn the engine over.

As I was about to see how the 'emergency pull cord' option worked a helpful chap called Rusty came to my aid, he was in the boat moored next to ours. Rusty is the 'river rescue RAC type fella' and he had a huge Halfords battery that very quickly jump started our little engine and we were away by 09:40.

It was a cold, damp boring as we motored along and soon we were through Benson Lock (on self service) and looking for a space to pull in at the Benson Boatyard to get a replacement gas bottle, empty the loo and to have a hearty breakfast at the Waterfront - but there wasn't a chance of getting in, the place was rammed with Le Boat's fleet, all stern on taking cup every inch of space, so we decided to make do with a bacon sarnie and to sort out the gas and loo later on.

Next up Days lock (manned), Clifton (self service but helped by the crew of 'The Hippy Boat'), Culham (manned) and we were at Abingdon Bridge Marine by13:30 to change a gas bottle. Luckily for us the chap at Abingdon noticed that the bottle wasn't empty! I'd assumed it was because I couldn't get the heater or hot water to work earlier - but in fact this was due to the flat battery all along!

We made use of the the sanitary station after Abingdon lock  and continued on our way by 14:00, by now enjoying some sunshine.

We managed Sandford lock by ourselves, then Iffley and Osney were both manned. We were moored up about 100 yards downstream of Osney Bridge by 16:40.

We took a stroll into Oxford and enjoyed a lovely meal at Jamie's Italian before heading back to watch The Apprentice!

Tomorrow we have to remove the canopy and fold down the windscreen in order to safely pass under Osney Bridge, we should have about 8" of clearance which sounds like loads!

Osney Bridge 7'6"
View from The Bridge